Huawei bans and spectrum delays hit 5G plans in Australia, New Zealand

Some Australian and New Zealand operators are getting a jump on their rivals with their access to 5G spectrum.

Telstra and Optus in Australia have both begun commercial 5G even though the designated 3.6GHz band won't be available until March 2020.

When regulator ACMA auctioned the spectrum last December, Telstra acquired 143 5MHz lots of 3.6GHz and Optus picked 47 lots.

Telstra was able to start selling 5G services in May after the regulator gave it permission for early use of the frequencies.

Optus did not need permission. It began 5G fixed wireless home broadband in January, using 3.4GHz spectrum which it says it acquired years ago in an acquisition.

To date, Telstra has deployed 320 5G-enabled mobile basestations in ten cities, Telstra boss Andy Penn said at a results briefing last week.

He says 5G coverage will increase fivefold over the next 12 months, with another 35 cities and towns connected.

Optus has just begun selling 5G mobile service with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note10+. But with just 100 live 5G sites, its network coverage is patchy.

The third Australian operator, VHA, is a long way from deployment. It is trying to rescue its 5G strategy with a court appeal against the rejection of its merger with broadband provider TPG.

The two companies jointly acquired 31 lots of 5G spectrum but TPG says its future role in mobile is in doubt after it had to terminate its 4G network rollout using Huawei kit.

That came after Australia's government banned Huawei from having any involvement in the country's 5G market.

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In New Zealand, the number-two operator Spark Mobile is also seeking a way to do 5G without Huawei after authorities raised concerns about its use of the Chinese vendor.

It says it is on track to start in mid-2020, but is waiting on the 3.5GHz auction.

That most likely won't be held until late next year and, according to the Radio Spectrum Management (RSM) agency, because of co-existence issues the spectrum won't be fully available until the current rights expire in October 2022.

However, Spark CEO Jolie Hodgson said today the company was encouraged by recent government signaling that it would offer "early temporary allocation" of some 3.5GHz band spectrum to enable fast 5G rollout while the longer-term problems are sorted.

While Spark waits to get hold of spectrum real estate, rival Vodafone New Zealand -- now under new ownership -- is set to launch 5G in December.

The company says it will offer service in four cities using a 40MHz slice of 3.5GHz spectrum which it says it has warehoused for "many years."

It has just announced Nokia as its lead vendor for the supply of RAN, cloud-native core and design services.

In Australia, Telstra has chosen Ericsson as its main supplier, while Optus is going with both Ericsson and Nokia.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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